The Seeker Within: Manifestations of Philosophy in Children’s Literature

The Child and the Book steering committee
and support owls

The Child and the Book conference at the University of Cambridge (Day 2)

part I.
If our earlier foray into the realm of philosophical whimsy in children’s literature was illustrative of the role of narrative fiction in stimulating philosophical thought, the constellation of discussions on Saturday focused on the theoretical and epistemological perspectives of text-reader interaction. One of the first sessions, entitled what sort of relationship? investigated how the sophisticated forms of reason and philosophical expressions can speak for, or provide children with, a philosophical voice. If philosophy draws on children’s literature as a source for its investigations, an exploration of children’s voices in philosophy may serve to illustrate the role of philosophical reflection in establishing a rational community encompassing children and adults.

Through an investigation of the characteristics of the philosophy of literature in relation to the field of children’s literary criticism, Clémentine Beauvais demonstrated the ways in which philosophical approaches to children’s literature may lead to a deeper understanding of literature as a whole. Following this stimulating discussion of the significance of a metacritical approach to the philosophy of children’s literature, Will Buckingham discussed the story-thinking process as a means of raising philosophical questions through his recently published picturebook The Snorgh and the Sailor (illustrated by Thomas Docherty). 

Nina Goga continued the discussion, outlining the ethical dimensions of Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, (also known as The Grasshopper and the Ant). Nina Goga explored the concepts of altruism and egoism in multifarious adaptations of the fable, drawing on Comte (1851), Smith, and Nietzsche to elucidate the differences in poetic style as well as the manifestations of industruiousness in art. The questions and comments that followed made reference to other popular adaptations (Leo Lionni’s Frederick, and Gianni Rodari’s To the Ant) as well as the pedagogical treatment of the fable. This exciting session concluded with Debbie Pullinger’s demonstration of the ways in which children’s poetry expresses an aspect of consciousness, a fusion of time and space in a “child-like chronotope”.

Lunch in the Homerton Fellow’s
dining hall
Following a beautifully laid out lunch in the fellow’s dining room, during which discussions were continued and contact details were exchanged, I was captivated by a series of presentations on metaphoricity, identity, and existentialist confrontations in picturebooks. In her exploration of memory and embodied environments in Canadian indigenous graphic novels, Debra Dudek suggested the manifestation of blood memory elements in David Alexander Robertson’s Generations. In Fostering Perplexity, Andrea Schwenke Wyile discussed the picturebooks Fox, by Margaret Wild and John Marsden’s The Rabbits (illustrated by Shaun Tan). Wyile discussed the synergy of words and pictures, coupled with the symbiosis of word and symbol in the poststructuralist picturebook fable. The session culminated in Astrid Surmatz’s exploration of the Nonssen/Janssen figure in Scandinavian and English picturebooks. In conclusion Astrid Surmatz offered Cambridge residents an  intriguing snippet of information: part of the Scott Polar Research Institute’s museum artefacts include collections of Antarctic poetry and fairy tales.


Works Cited:

Buckingham, W. & Docherty, T. (2012). The Snorgh and the Sailor. London: Alison Green Books.


Marsden, J. & Tan, S. The Rabbits. Sydney: Hachette.

Wild, M. & Brooks, R. (2008). Fox. London: Allen & Unwin.  


     



 
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